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Published: Wednesday, 4/12/2006

Firefighters seek updated page system

BY GEORGE J. TANBER
BLADE STAFF WRITER

MONROE - Citing safety issues, Monroe County firefighters are losing patience with the sheriff's department over what they say is a foot-dragging effort in installing a new VHF paging system that alerts volunteer firefighters that they are needed and provides siren and tornado-alert services.

"It's plain and simple: They haven't updated it," said Summerfield Township Fire Chief Nick Lucas. "Why does it take so long to figure out what you're going to do before you get something going?"

The issue of a new paging system has been discussed for years, according to county Commissioner Dale Zorn, another critic.

"The county of Monroe accepted [the] responsibility decades ago to be the fire department's dispatcher," he said. "The fire departments have upgraded their equipment, going from monitors to pagers. The county did not do that."

Maj. David Thompson, who directs communications systems installations for the sheriff's department, said his department is trying to quickly moved forward but the process has been delayed by bureaucratic snafus.

The plan, according to Major Thompson, is to install an integrated VHF system using radio towers in Monroe, Berlin, Dundee, and Whiteford townships. The towers are home to the county's new 800-mhz radio system operating since December, 2004.

Holding up the installation, Major Thompson said, is gaining permission from the Federal Communications Commission and the Canadian government for a new frequency for the VHF system. Presently, the pager system utilizes two different towers, one in Monroe, the other in Ida, neither of which is integrated with the other. A new frequency is required because the county is moving the pager system from one tower system to another.

Delaying the process, several requests in the past year for new frequencies from communities in northwest Ohio and Lenawee County have been rejected. Finally, according to Major Thompson, the city of Detroit approved the use of a frequency no longer used there. The request was sent to the FCC on April 6. If approved, the request goes to Canada - which has to weigh in because of its proximity to Michigan.

Major Thompson said he believes the request will eventually be approved but has no idea when.

Meanwhile, firefighters like Chief Lucas worry that a problem with the Monroe or Ida VHF tower could pose safety concerns. Such a situation occurred earlier this year when the Ida tower was knocked out by lightning on one occasion and by a power surge on another.

During one of the breakdowns, a fire broke out at a Summerfield Township residence that was picked up, by chance, by the monitoring of a midday phone call to central dispatch in Monroe. Had the fire occurred in the middle of the night and the tower was down, a different result might have happened, Chief Lucas said.

"If they would have updated



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